In the last fortnight, the Congress and the BJP faced roughly similar problems in Andhra Pradesh (AP) and Karnataka. But both handled their respective crisis in diametrically different fashions.
Supporters of the late Y.S. Rajashekhara Reddy, former AP chief minister, have been putting pressure on the Congress high command to replace the current CM, K. Rosaiah, with YSR’s son Jagan Mohan Reddy. The Reddy brothers in Karnataka, who control the mining industry there, wanted the BJP to replace the CM, B.S. Yeddyurappa, with their candidate.
The two Reddy families are linked by lineage and business interests. But this comparison can only be to the limited extent that both Reddys wanted to gain a larger share of power than they have now, by arm-twisting the leadership of their respective parties. This apart, there are no other similarities.
YSR converted part of his political power into a business empire, managed by his son Jagan Mohan. Business did not dictate his politics, but financed and facilitated it. Jagan was impatient to become the CM after YSR’s death. He has the support of a majority of the Congress MLAs and enjoys public support. Still, the Congress high command put its foot down and persuaded him to back out. Rosaiah remains CM only to make one point — that nobody can put pressure on the party; Jagan’s hold over huge finances turned out to be his disadvantage. That point had to be made.
Contrast this with how the BJP handled its Reddys. In Karnataka, the Reddys are not the leaders of the party, Yeddyurappa is. His ideological commitment and hard work helped the party establish itself in the state and get its first government in a southern state. The Reddy brothers merely converted part of their wealth into political power — the inverse of what YSR and his family did in Andhra. Yet, the compromise formula worked out by the BJP leaders is a surrender to the Bellary brothers.
Assuming that all this is morally neutral, the two situations show that the BJP compares badly with the Congress. Despite his popularity, the Congress turned down Jagan Mohan to make a larger point. And despite Yeddyurappa’s popularity, the BJP failed to make that point.
The moneyed have a role to play in politics. From Gandhi onwards, the Congress tradition perfected the art of managing them. Money would always play second fiddle, howsoever important it may be. The BJP failed to keep the balance.
The club of the wealthy is far bigger in the Congress than in the BJP. Of the 79 ministers in the Union council, 47 are crorepatis and 38 of them are from the Congress. Of the 206 Congress MPs in Lok Sabha, 145 have declared assets worth more than Rs 1 crore. Only 50 per cent of the BJP MPs are crorepatis — 59 of its 116 Lok Sabha members. Yet, the BJP is unable to keep them in their place.
The BJP’s capitulation before the Bellary brothers has not merely damaged the party, but has undermined the rules of engagement between politics and money. The low point for the BJP in 2009 is not its electoral defeat in May but its Karnataka comprise.